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April Adalim

David W. Toise, Ph. D

British Literature II: Spring 2013

23 May 2013

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen, 1818.

“As soon as breakfast was over, she [Catherine] sat down to fulfil her promise to Miss Tilney, whose trust in the effect of time and distance on her friend’s disposition was already justified, for already did Catherine reproach herself with having parted from Eleanor coldly; with having never enough valued her merits or kindness; and never enough commiserated her for what she had been yesterday left to endure. The strength of these feelings, however, was far from assisting her pen; and never had it been harder for her to write than in addressing Eleanor Tilney. To compose a letter which might at once do justice to her sentiments and her situation, convey gratitude without servile regret, be guarded without coldness, and honest without resentment—a letter which Eleanor might not be pained by the perusal of—and, above all, which she might not blush herself, if Henry should chance to see, was an undertaking to frighten away all her powers of performance; and, after, long thought and much perplexity, to be very brief was all that she could determine on with any confidence of safety. The money therefore which Eleanor had advanced was inclosed with little more than grateful thanks, and the thousand good wished of a most affectionate heart” (Austen 174).

“The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock”, T.S. Eliot, 1915.

“And would it have been worth it, after all,/After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,/Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,/Would it have been worth while,/To have bitten off the matter with a smile,/To have squeezed the universe into a ball/To roll it towards some overwhelming questions,/To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,/Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—/If one, settling a pillow by her head,/Should say: “That is not what I meant at all./That is not it, at all.”/And would it have been worth it, after all,/Would it have been worth while,/After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,/After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—/And this, and so much more?—/It is impossible to say just what I mean!/But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:/Would it have been worth while/If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,/And turning toward the window, should say: “That is not it at all, That is not what I meant, at all”” (Eliot 2290).

Part II: Language Arts: A Contrast Between the Abbey, the Song, and the Colors

Language helps convey experiences to those who do not understand. Taylor Swift’s “Red” is an example: “Loving him was blue like I’ve never known/Missing him was dark gray, all alone/Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you’ve never met/But loving him was red” (Swift). Swift uses language to construct meaning out of the colors she uses, coinciding with Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and its idea of the power of language. However, sensory-based technologies such as the iPad improve the representation of sensations; Swift and Austen’s language becomes useless if a person does not understand the meaning conveyed. T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” makes a note of this sentiment. Austen illustrates the Swift-storytelling importance of language through Catherine’s letter to Eleanor; Eliot’s narrator, however, claims in his monologue that language does not aptly communicate meaning. The differences illustrate the culture each piece comes from: Austen hails from a time where language bridges the sensations with their representations and Eliot from the modernist era where other technologies bridge the sensational gaps that language could not close.

Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey appreciates the power of language due to her love of the novel; her appreciation shows in her careful consideration of the letter that she will write to Eleanor Tilney. Catherine wishes to justify her abrupt departure from Northanger Abbey, but finds it “harder for her to write” to her friend than to speak to her (Austen 174). She finds writing difficult because her words need to be exact and precise; the words in the letter are the final draft of her thoughts. If Catherine had the chance to speak with Eleanor personally, she has the advantage of explaining concepts that remain unclear. Using precise and thoughtful language, then, becomes even more important in order for to successfully tell Eleanor her thoughts and feelings. She considers how to make the language portray “gratitude without servile regret, be guarded without coldness, and honest without resentment” (174). The flexibility of language and the utility of metaphor coincide with Swift’s descriptions of loss as “blue” and love as “red” (Swift). Through this letter that Catherine prepares to write, language becomes the experience.

In contrast, the unnamed narrator in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” speaks of the inadequacy and the decreased power of language. The unnamed narrator says in a simple manner: “It is impossible to say just what I mean!” (Eliot 2290). Unlike Catherine, the narrator believes that language is inadequate to express his intentions and emotions. Words cannot paint an accurate picture; at this point, missing someone as “dark gray, all alone” (Swift) is not enough to bridge the gap between the sensation and the representation of sensation: what does “dark gray” mean exactly? Similarly, part of Catherine’s difficulty in writing her letter may not be in harnessing the power of language, but rather, realizing that the exact language is too difficult to write and the best way to tell Eleanor is either face-to-face or if Eleanor experiences Catherine’s emotions herself.

Language becomes more obsolete as different forms of words can convey different meanings. The narrator in “Love Song” points out the ambiguity of language: “That it not what I meant at all./That is not it, at all” (Eliot 2290). Whatever a person says can be interpreted in different ways, depending on who hears the words. Language does not have the precision Catherine depends on in her letter. Although flexibility of language gives Catherine options as to how she needs to word her emotions, this flexibility is what gives language its weakness: “The strength of these feelings, however, was far from assisting her pen; and never had it been harder for her to write than in addressing Eleanor Tilney” (Austen 174). A wrong turn of phrase can lead to a misunderstanding of semantics, a case of “That is not what I meant at all” (Eliot 2290). However, Catherine has a specific purpose in mind; the narrator in Eliot’s poem does not seem to have one because of the narrator’s search for what he “really means.” This leads to the fact that other tools can express sensation and the representation of sensation much better than language: “But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:/Would it have been worth while” (2290). Eliot suggests that closer representations of experiences (the magic lantern) truly remove any sort of ambiguity in meaning, especially the ambiguity that language can add on. The variety of meanings that language brings is what causes language to lose the power it formerly had with Austen.

In regard to language and the power of language, Eliot’s poem calls attention to language’s limitations as new technologies present sensations much more accurately. His poem comes from a much later era than Austen’s novel: her heroine pays careful attention to her words in order to describe her thoughts and feelings. Catherine relies on language because of the fact that Eleanor would not understand her feelings, much like how Taylor Swift relies on colors to describe her emotions to someone who does not understand. Because of the ambiguity of language, it no longer has the power in today’s world of social media and virtual reality to truly communicate experiences. Rather than relying on descriptions of emotions as blue, gray, and red, one simply has to venture on to YouTube to experience the emotions more accurately than colors can express. Although language is important in the communicative experience, it falls second to the virtual and technological experiences of the modern and post-modern era.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sandition. Ed. James Kinsley and John Davie. New York: Oxford University, 2003. Print.

Eliot, T.S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature, Vol. 2C. Ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson Education, 2010. 2287-2291. Print.

Swift, Taylor. “Red.” Red. Big Machine Records, 2012. CD.

Aaron Hagan

A Crisis of Identity: A Brief Study on Chinese Individualism

Chinese history, and by extension, its culture, stretches back thousands of years, its origins shrouded in an indiscernible veil of truth and legend. Needless to say, the Chinese are a patient people, having spent the last three millennia or so kow-towing to dynasties and emperors beyond number. Countless poems, novels, and texts romanticize China’s tumultuous history, with none more vivid than the aptly named Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong1. Guanzhong, like many authors of his time, highlights the cyclical nature of Chinese history, with every dynasty inevitably usurped by another. To the Chinese, change - lasting change - takes time. Contrast Chinese history with the rise of the new, modern China, and one can only wonder what pushed such a long suffering people to make such a drastic change so quickly. Modern China is a land of paradoxes and culture shocks - an identity crisis with rolling hills and ashen skies. We in the west often view China as this nameless, faceless, collective aimed at enveloping the world. What we fail to realize is that there are individuals behind this faceless giant, each with a story, providing the driving force behind this sudden and miraculous expansion.

Few nations or people groups ever make the enormous leap from developing nation to rising economic superpower as China has made in the last 60 years (let alone the last 5). Still, despite it’s prospective status as the next global hegemon, China Road author, Robert Gifford, asserts that the west still clings to antiquated ideas regarding both China’s culture and its people [2]:

" In spite of all the change in China, the Western world is still stuck in its dangerously outdated, black-and-white view of the country… they [the Chinese people] have never been seen by the West as individuals. Now, though, individualism is emerging in China, as people take more control of their own lives. Chinese people, especially in the cities, have choices, and these choices are creating a whole new generation that is unknown to many people in the West.”

Perhaps the most tragic example of Chinese individualism can be found in the 1989 protests at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, where thousands of students rallied to protest the Communist government’s repressive regime, calling for more democracy and popular involvement. The Government promptly addressed their grievances by thundering over them with tank treads and drowning them out with sounds of gunfire, bringing an abrupt and violent end to an otherwise peaceful demonstration. Out of the Tiananmen Square protests, however, was forged an unwritten, unofficial pact between China’s Communist government and its people: “Stay out of our way, and we’ll stay out of yours.” Since then, there has been an explosion of people migrating from the rural west to the industrialized east, looking to grab a slice of the freshly baked capitalism, still crusted with a thin layer of socialist ideology. This pseudo-capitalism (while still technically referred to as “Chinese Socialism”) is the driving force behind the rash of individualism Gifford speaks of. Imagine, if you will, a man, who has been hitherto blind his entire life, is given sight for the first time. Would he know what to do with it? Would he close his eyes and shy away from it? Would he test its limits by seeing how long he can stare into the sun? Or would he simply rejoice in the knowledge that he can see? Lingering beneath the surface of the Chinese people all this time has been this slumbering individualism just waiting to burst, and now that they have been provided avenues of “release,” how do they express this individualism?

In high school, I befriended two Chinese foreign exchange students: Ma Ya-Lun (anglicized as “Ellen”) and Tang Majie (whom we called “Magic”). Ellen is shy, yet startlingly energetic. It was easy to befriend her, and yet it took a year for me to really “know” her. She loves American pop music, is a fantastic, if not brilliant, watercolor artist, and knows more about American and International economics than I would ever care to. Magic, by contrast, is outgoing, funny, and somewhat lazy. He enjoys basketball, video games, drinking at parties, and criticizing the Chinese government. It was, in fact, on the subject of government that these two always seemed to butt heads with one another: Ellen would always staunchly defend the Communist government’s policies, and Magic would always retort by asking her if the Chinese Secret Police (the MSS or “Ministry of State Security”) had put her up to it.

Gifford presents a similar example, in the form the two young Chinese women, Lucy and Emily [3]. While both card-carrying members of the Communist Party, they appear to differ intrinsically on their views in regards to economics, government and society. These differences, according to Gifford, serve to dispel the west’s antiquated notions regarding a “hive mind,” China:

"Although they are patriotic, they are not ideological in the least. They are individuals. They believe in romantic love. They have chosen their own jobs,their own boyfriends, their own lifestyles. The pursuit of happiness has been deeply enshrined in their minds, if not yet in their country’s constitution.”

For all the West’s vaunted progressivism, many in Europe and North America still harbor antiquated ideas about the “Chinese threat,” placing too much faith into words like communism rather than individuals. Only when we detach ourselves from these preconceived notions can we engage one another as human beings. In the words of Chuang Tzu [4]:

"The fish trap exists because of the fish; once you’ve gotten the fish, you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit; once you’ve gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning; once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can have a word with him?”

Footnotes and Such

1. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Luo Guanzhong (the entire book)

2. China Road, Robert Gifford (pg xix)

3. China Road, Robert Gifford (pg 24)

4. Basic Writings, Chuang Tzu (pg 140)


Anmarie Fielding

Recessive genes. 
I’m a little confused by your reaction 
to my success. I thought that maybe pride 
would begin to carve lines into your foundation
like sweat you said to keep away from my eyes. 
But my red eyes match your red nails and 
you raise one brow up, like that is enough 
to prove that heavy, lacquered, words are only sand,
but I am buried, breathless, in the bluff.
Instead of dressing up a doll in lace
you bound your plaything tight, and I don’t know
that dad will ever forgive you for that. Face
the tragedy that your looks do not show.
My features may not bear your cross of beauty
but I would rather have the talent you gave to me.

Eliud Marquez

Leadership based upon Conquest of New Spain

One person alone cannot take down an army, but an entire group of people can. By having a “good” leader, any group can achieve a goal. Anybody can become a leader and lead others, but it takes a special set of skills to become a “good” leader. Leadership involves much more than simply telling people what to do. It includes the attributes of confidence, integrity, and perseverance. Some people have leadership thrust upon them based on their religious or political stature. Others, like Cortes in the Conquest of New Spain, earn the position of leadership based on their experience and reputation. Assessing leadership through analysis of the leaders prominent in the conquest of New Spain, it appears that effective leaders must first learn or develop the skills to become “good,” be completely faithful to their religion, and achieve goals while respecting human fulfillment.

The concept of “good” has different meanings in different texts, yet all apply to “good” leadership. In the Analects, Confucius dedicates book four entirely on “goodness.” He writes, “The Master said, ‘One who is Good sees as his first priority the hardship of self-cultivation, and only after thinks about results or rewards’” (60). In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle directly connects “good” with happiness. “Happiness,” he suggests, “is good activity based in itself, not amusement” (192).  Contrastingly, in Outliers, Malcolm Gladwellargues that being “good” involves practicing everything one knows how to do until one is able to lead. “Practice isn’t the only thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good” (42).  All three texts share a common point that being “good” involves many aspects of understanding. Being a “good” leader does not simply mean that everyone likes the leader. Instead, it means that he knows how to be “good” through leading, helping, and understanding. For example, in Conquest of New Spain, when Cortes realized that they were all scarce on money and horses, “Cortes bought Alonso Hernandez Puerto-Carrero a grey mare” since he could not afford it. Here, Cortes exemplifies “good” leadership by financially helping a follower and shows understanding because Alonso Hernandez Puerto-Carrero “had neither a horse nor the money to buy one (50).

To command effectively, a leader must possess a strong mind, body, and soul. Therefore, having some form of faith certainly applies to “good” leadership. In the Analects, Confucius believes that following the Way spiritually strengthens the mind and body. “The Master said, ‘If you are respectful but lack ritual in the Way, you will become exasperating; if you are careful but lack ritual in the Way, you will become timid; if you are courageous but lack ritual in the Way, you will become inflexible” (78). In the Nicomachean Ethics, faith does not refer explicitly to a religion, but in being in accordance with virtue. “Based on virtue, complaints do not arise, but the purpose of the doer is a sort of measure, for in purpose lies the essential element of virtue and character” (33). Contrastingly, throughout Conquest of New Spain, Diaz gives praise to God multiple times. “We thanked God and devoted our souls to God our Creator, and our bodies to wounds, hardships, and even death in the Lord’s service and His Majesty’s” (184). Though the Spaniards faith may be strong, it can cause insensitivity towards others, as shown multiple times in Conquest of New Spain. “Lord Montezuma, I cannot imagine how a prince as great and wise as your Majesty can have failed to realize that these idols of yours are not gods but evil things” (237). Cortes treats the faith of others unjustly and cannot fathom any other religion besides his own. Being a “good” leader includes having respect and tolerance towards others, which clearly Cortes does not possess.

The final characteristic of a “good” leader lies in achieving human fulfillment. While the definition of human fulfillment differs between texts – Confucius through understanding himself and Gladwell through success – they each agree that attaining human fulfillment is achievable. Human fulfillment includes treating people equally, knowing right from wrong, and establishing relationships with others as the good that humankind can offer. In Analects, Confucius talks about the importance of doing the right thing. “The Master said, ‘A person survives and understands by being upright. If you try leading a crooked life, only blind luck will allow you to get by” (59). In the Nicomachean Ethics, achieving human fulfillment requires one to establish relationships by making friends. Man needs friends simply because it is in our nature as humans to live with others. “It is nobler to do well by friends than by strangers, the good happy man will need friends to do well by” (176). In Outliers, achieving human fulfillment requires one to gain success by making connections with others. “Our ability to succeed at anything we do is powerfully bound up with where we’re from and the connections we have with others” (209).  Though Analects, the Nicomachean Ethics, and Outliers all show that respecting human fulfillment brings goodness, Cortes, through his greed in the Conquest of New Spain,does not seem to respect the fulfillment of others at all.

“The officers of the Royal Treasury publicly proclaimed that Guatemoc had hidden the treasure and that Cortes was delighted since he would not have to give it up, but could keep it all for himself” (409). Greed remains the major downfall towards respecting human fulfillment. As mentioned earlier, respecting human fulfillment includes treating others equally. Cortes, through hiding gold, did not treat others equally, but instead exemplifies a lack of connection toward his followers. His followers were each promised 1/5th of the total earnings, but seeing as “the sum was so little,” Cortes was not able to treat everyone equally. For this reason, Cortes lacks the capability of being a “good” leader. “After subtracting the royal fifth, Cortes took his own fifth, and pickings for about thirty captains” (352).

In the modern world, all the lessons learned from being a “good” leader remain applicable. In the Analects, Confucius believed that part of being good comes from acknowledging the “good” in others. “The Master said, ‘When you see someone who is worthy, concentrate upon becoming their equal; when you see someone who is unworthy, use this as an opportunity to look within yourself” (35). In the modern world, people have tried to define the concept of leader, but to little avail.  A leader possesses a great amount of influence on our everyday lives. President Obama exemplifies good leadership in the modern world. By hearing what the public has to say, he either creates or vetoes laws he believes will benefit the entire country.  Though a leader may influence his people positively, a “good” leader must also stand as a role model of goodness.

In the modern world, President Obama has exemplified “goodness” by taking the troops out of the Middle East and by pushing legislation to increase gun control. These are examples of “goodness” because as Obama told the speech about Sandy Hook Elementary, he cried. Crying shows that he “looked within himself” and was able to help America during a time of a severe emotional crisis. Obama’s crying demonstrates a connection that he is equal to his “followers,” the citizens on a personal level. As a result, many groups have protested and developed more movements to ban gun control. On the majority level, the public now has one overall goal. They want overall safety for all by increasing gun control.

A “good” leader can expect that his followers will follow him because they believe he will bring them to success. He should possess “good” leadership qualities such as empathy, rational thinking, and communication skills to help him achieve his goals. He must also use these skills to give opportunities to others so that they may have a chance at success.  A “good” leader in the modern world gives others these opportunities or finds resources necessary for having an opportunity.  As told in the Outliers, “Success is very attainable for everyone at every level. We are too much in awe of those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail. Opportunities to succeed lay everywhere” (33).  While taking every opportunity to succeed, such a leader must also learn to establish friendships. To become a “good,” and possibly even “great” leader, one must learn to establish relationships with others, have some form of faith in order to grow as an individual, and respect human fulfillment by treating others the way one would wish to be treated.

Works Cited

Diaz, Bernal. Conquest of New Spain. England: Clays LTD, St Ives Plc, 1963. Print.

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers. New York:  Little Brown, 2008. Print.

Ross, Dave. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. USA: Oxford Printing Press, 2009. Print.

Slingerland, Edward. Confucian Analects. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company Inc, 2003. Print.

Apple v. Ravitch: Education Reforms

Diane Ravitch and Michael W. Apple, assess educational reform and its implications for a democratic nation in their respective texts, The Death and Life of the Great American School System and Ideology and Curriculum.  Both agree that education and by extension curriculum is crucial for the creation of active citizens in democracy and should be protected from market forces. They disagree on the purpose and form of curriculum employed. While Ravitch makes great strides towards Apple’s notion of critical reform, her romanticized version of schooling falls short of grasping education’s true purpose of empowering students.

In Ideology and Curriculum, Apple (2004) discusses how education serves a hegemonic purpose in reproducing the system by promoting passive consumption of knowledge rather than active participation. To combat this reproduction the public and the educator must become aware of the hegemonic purpose the curriculum employs.

In writing about the history of The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch (2010) shares how her vision for educational reform has changed over the years with each wave of new reforms. In analyzing historical applications of accountability and choice, Ravitch reverts to a “liberal” perspective that suggests nationalizing a broad liberal arts curriculum as a solution to the market failures. For Ravitch the commitment to our public schools will ensure the cultivation of democratic citizenship.

Both Apple (2004) and Ravitch (2010) agree that democracy requires educated masses to function properly. Apple (2004) argues that presently the political nature of education has fundamentally transformed into an economic concept (186). He states: “The very meaning of democracy now is consumption practices” (187).  President Bush demonstrated this new definition of democracy as he encouraged the American public to boost the economy by “going shopping,” with incentive checks in the wake of 9/11, thus merging patriotism with consumerism (Burke 2012). The transformative meaning of citizen and democracy is especially problematic given the passive role of a consumer and the active role of a citizen (Apple, 2004:186). This transformation takes place not only in the public sphere, but in schools as well.

Schools start to resemble business models in their standardization, objective procedures. They become “data driven, rather than data informed” (Ravitch, 2010 pp. 228). Education becomes a commodity, which can be measured, and quantified. It becomes rationalized. However, Ravitch purports, “not everything that matters can be quantified” (226). Thus in describing the business model reforms in the San Diego and New York City school districts, Ravitch shows how corporate logic impairs education’s true purpose as a public good. She concludes that neither get-tough policies nor direct mayoral control produce results (2010: 66 & 90). The programs failed to instill the values and skills needed to participate in democracy. According to Apple (2004) education should prepare students to participate in the “building and restructuring of institutions” (187).  Rather they promote accountability and choice without first improving the quality of the education being accounted for. Like Apple, Ravitch (2010) states that without quality education “one tends to become a passive spectator rather than an active participant in the great decisions of our time” (223). Essentially, the move towards accountability and testing also demobilized education as active grounds for citizenship and democracy. It replaced a renaissance education for the quick and easy benefits of the corporate world.

Systems management and assessment ideals are systems of control not suited for education. They serve as ideological tools to control educators and measure accountability for taxpayers.  Apple (2004) argues that educators must engage in “continuous and in-depth analyses of other forms of systems theory” and should avoid borrowing from other fields such as corporate America (112). Borrowing from another field only “impose[s] technical solutions on moral dilemmas” (112).These changes occur presently because of the increasing rationalization of education (Apple, 2004:133). What Ravitch once describes as being great teaching is now pushed away for more standard, objective methods of assessment and testing (171). Apple (2004) notes that the science behind the data rests with the interests of the “technical administration” whose expertise becomes highly profitable in this system (177). These educational reforms serve an agenda besides student learning.  Thus, rationalization allows educational quality to be controlled not though curriculum or instruction, but data (Ravitch, 2010: 180). In this way both Ravitch (2010) and Apple (2004) are critical of systems management and assessment driven education. Ultimately, under these reforms, education becomes an output rather than a process. 

An integral part of the educational process is textbooks.  In most schools, the curriculum is the textbook (Apple, 2004:188).  Both Ravitch and Apple recognize textbooks avoid controversy to maintain sales and ensure “neutrality” (2004:188; 2010: 234). Besides the “dumbing down” of curriculum, Apple (2004) argues that the progressive roots of curriculum are becoming increasingly conservative (188). What traditionally was a compromise as to “what and whose knowledge should be declared legitimate” is now a push for “a curriculum of facts” (189). Ravitch (2010) notes that controversies ought to be explored and debates encouraged to engage students who currently perform the worst in U.S. History (235). Conservatives weaken discussions by yielding to a “safe” version of “race, sex/gender, disability, environment, and class dynamics and histories,” thus stripping the movements of their radical roots and incorporating them back under domination (Apple, 2004:179). In this way what seems like a victory for oppressed groups is in reality the alteration of “the other” to fit dominant ideology.

Once these conservative ideologies become mainstream, the public will not recognize its faults without a radical ideological shift. Apple (2004) states: “The basic categories of corporate logic have become so commonsensical that many people no longer even see a need for emancipation” (153-154). Ravitch (2010) illustrates this point in her reports of the NYC business model reforms. Parents though initially held some concerns felt no need to intervene as standards dropped so low that students could pass state exams by randomly guessing (79). It was not until the “Monday Night Massacre” that ended social promotion that spurred the parent rebellion.  Yet their rebellion was directed solely at this point, and it did not question the corporate logic of testing or accountability. Unfortunately, this logic became the norm that even Ravitch admits she was swept up in (13). 

Until there is a widespread radical readjustment in educational reform, Apple disagrees with Ravitch for the need for a national curriculum. Apple (2004) argues it is dangerous to establish a national curriculum for it would only force corporate style educational reforms across the nation and “exacerbate even more the process of turning schools into commodities” (197).  The only useful purpose that a national curriculum has for Apple is to stimulate national debate and bring awareness to the cause. Nonetheless, Ravitch supports the call for a national curriculum thinking it will deflect corporate America’s influence on education (2010: 237). She acknowledges the unlikeliness and alternatively suggests that states should draft standards that favor broad, renaissance education ensuring a well-rounded learning.

Although Ravitch (2010) has similar ideals as Apple (2004) in wanting to cultivate public education to be all-inclusive and democratic, she falls short on one level. She fails to realize the distinction between equal opportunity and equal outcomes. While Ravitch (2010) encourages an exciting, controversial history to be taught to students, she does not offer any insight as to how this curriculum may empower disadvantaged or less-motivated students who are currently denied equal opportunity (223).  In fact her curriculum though may be controversial, lacks the critical aspect to expose the structure that unfairly cultivates only certain students. While she may now oppose accountability and testing, her curriculum only offers an alternative status quo that upholds the current structure and inequalities. Apple (2004) wishes for a controversial and critical curriculum to expose schools as the “sorting and selecting” institutions that they are and “demand that it live up to the ideals for which [they] supposedly stand” (191).  

Granted Ravitch (2010) and Apple (2004) may agree that education should cultivate an active citizenship; they disagree on the extent to which citizens should be active. Ravitch’s (2010) analysis implies a curriculum that cultivates understanding and knowledge in the individual. While Apple (2004) suggests that the purpose of education is emancipation. And “one of the fundamental conditions of emancipation is the ability to “see” the actual functioning of institutions in all their positive and negative complexity, to illuminate the contradictions of extant regularities” (153). Thus for Apple (2004), education serves to create “intellectuals who actively participate in the struggle against hegemony,” whereas Ravitch wishes to create intellectuals who maintain the status quo with their renaissance education (Apple, 2004:156). While Apple (2004) seeks educational restructuring to transform the status quo, Ravitch (2010) seeks educational reform that simply restores a previous version of it.

Overall, in analyzing educational reforms Ravitch (2010) and Apple (2004) share some common ground. Both authors agree that the market economy and system management have no place in education where democracy should stand strong. They also agree that textbooks should promote dialogue and debate, serving as an aid to the curriculum rather than a clutch. While they agree on these points, they diverge on the how to make use of the curriculum and the purpose of national standards. 

Apple, Michael W. 2004. Ideology and Curriculum. 3rd ed. New York : Routledge.

Burke, Paul. 2012. “Mass Media.” Presented at Sacramento State University, October Sacramento, CA.

Ravitch, Diane. 2010. The Death and Life of the     Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. New York : Basic Books.

Aleksandra Kireyeva


“With great power, comes great responsibility.” Though originally coined by Voltaire, this quote instantly brings up the image of a noble superhero sacrificing himself to protect the innocent. Spiderman, Batman, and Superman have more in common than cheesy names. They all exhibit the main leadership qualities we expect from our own leaders. Though a leader must be charismatic and clever, what truly makes him/her stand out are the qualities that leave us admiring them centuries after their time. A “great” leader must be willing to make worthwhile sacrifices and confidently take a stand. He must put the needs of the people above his own and pursue justice with authenticity. Bernal Diaz’s “The Conquest of New Spain” provides many examples of leaders; amongst which Cortes and Montezuma are arguably the most prominent. Both men were good leaders, but not great ones,for their few admirable qualities are overshadowed by their faults. Namely Montezuma’s indecisiveness and unwillingness to make sacrifices and Cortes’ selfish and unjust acts made them both disappointing leaders. Both leaders’ failures and successes can serve as a reminder that although we hold ideals for what makes up a “great” leader, such a human being is so rare that we must choose and appreciate good leaders more often than not.

A great leader’s superpower consists of the charisma and authoritative influence that allows him to lead a nation with nothing but a microphone in hand. Cortes and Montezuma both had “the gift of gab” and intelligence. However, a superpower is but a tool; a great leader must have the daring to use it when the stakes are high. Cortes puts these tools to use much more effectively than Montezuma. Cortes was unafraid to take risks after stranding himself and his people in New Spain for “the service of God and our great Emperor Charles” (p. 159); though it would be more accurate to say he did so in the name of greed and glory. Cortes boldly takes Montezuma hostage with the mere use of speech. He asserts, “But now your captains and vassals have lost all shame and are secretly debating whether you do not again wish to have us killed… Everything will be forgiven, provided you will now come quietly with us to our quarters…” (p.246). Cortes and his men are deep in the city of Mexico, surrounded by thousands of potential enemies. Yet, he manages to use his charisma and knack for manipulation to convince Montezuma to become a hostage with no bloodshed whilst simultaneously making it sound as if Montezuma brought imprisonment upon himself.

Montezuma, by comparison, found himself less willing to take risks. He was awfully indecisive on the question of whether to allow the Europeans to enter Mexico, showing weakness as a leader. “…every day he was of many minds unable to decide what to do about it. Sometimes he sent them instructions…to pay us great honor and guide us on to Mexico; and at other times he said that he did not want us to come to the city” (p.195).  Montezuma was conflicted and did not know how to use his “superpower” with the Europeans because the risks of either opposing them or befriending them were considerable. Consequently, he accomplished neither and was politely imprisoned. A great leader must therefore employ his charisma and cleverness assertively, especially in risky situations, or find his followers growing frustrated with a ruler that doesn’t lead at all. Alexander Hamilton asserts the most important quality of an executive is the energy to act. “Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government… A feeble executive implies a feeble execution of government” (Woll, p. 260). A superhero who cannot decide which way to fly is useless no matter how powerful he is. Similarly, Montezuma became useless to his people and was subsequently replaced with a more assertive leader.

Even when one uses a “superpower” decisively, the way in which it is put to use separates a hero from a villain. A great leader’s power is tied to the responsibility of caring for his people and putting their needs above his own. In this light, Cortes is more villain than a hero as he manipulates his own people in order to fulfill his selfish desires. Diaz admits, “As far as I can judge, this plan of ours for destroying the ships had already been decided on by Cortes. But he wished it to be put forward by us, so that if we were afterwards asked to pay for the ships he could say that he had acted on our advice and we should all have to share the cost” (p.130). Cortes makes sure his people will follow him by destroying their only way home, thus forcing them to fight for their lives all the way to Mexico. Ideally, this tactic could be justified if it were for the good of the people. However, we see how little he cares for his men as he divides the spoils of victory. Diaz reveals: “We captains and soldiers were all somewhat sad when we saw how little gold there was and how poor and mean our shares would be” (p.410).  Cortes led his men to victory with promises of gold and in the name of “the greater good” but discarded them as soon as he no longer found them useful. Sadly, the only “spoils of war” his men ended up with were PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and a riveting tale about a strange land, greed, and war.

While Cortes fails as a leader because he cares too little for his people, Montezuma triumphs in this aspect as he attempts to keep violence from breaking out. He is convinced that the Europeans are the prophesied new rulers of the land. “…he was glad to be a prisoner, since either our gods gave us power to confine him or Huichilobos permitted it” (p.252).  Montezuma sacrifices himself in order to peacefully allow the destined new rulers to take over without the bloodshed of his people. Powhatan, Pocahontas’ father, similarly humbles himself for what he sees as “the greater good” of his people. In his speech to John Smith, he asks that his people be treated with kindness. “I wish their experience no lesse than mine, and your love to them no lesse than mine to you” (Powhatan). Powhatan humbles himself before John Smith as he begs for the Europeans’ compassion toward his people when it is apparent his tribe cannot win. Montezuma and Powhatan acted for their people’s well-being and, from a 21st century perspective, they were right in believing defeat was inevitable. Often, we think the superhero must fight for his people rather than give them up quietly to the man he views as a villain. After all, the superhero always finds a way to win.  However, when there is, in fact, no way to triumph, it takes a special kind of strength to give up and provide one’s people with the best chance possible.   

Not only do Superman, Batman, and Spiderman all fight for their people but also in the name of the same thing- justice. A “great” leader pursues justice instead of falsely making a show of it. Cortes also fails in this aspect when he uses his “superpowers” selfishly rather than fairly when dividing up the gold. “Cortes said… and other trickeries, so that in the end very little was left, so little indeed that many of us soldiers did not want to touch it, and Cortes was left with it all…to demand justice in the matter was useless” (p. 273). Cortes attempts to make his injustice in the matter of gold appear fair by dividing it into seemingly logical portions. Additionally he often makes a false show of justice when conquering the Natives by explaining to them that he is, in fact, helping them. When the Tlascalans surrender, Cortes tells them that “he desired peace and had not come to make war, and that he had come in the name of our lord Jesus Christ, and the Emperor Charles, to explain to them why they should give up their custom of killing and sacrificing, and to beg them to do so” (p. 162). Whilst keeping up the façade of holy crusader, Cortes acts with hypocrisy by raping and plundering in the new land he means to enlighten.

Montezuma, in contrast, constructs no façade. Although from a 21st century point of view, his treatment of the tribes the Mexicans conquer is unjust for much rape and theft occurred, Montezuma has his own idea of justice and asks for “tribute of gold and silver, feathers, precious stones, cloth, and cotton, also men and women for sacrifice and servants” (p.180).  He treats the people as he deems the conquered should be treated; similar to the way Cortes treats the Indians according to his own flawed ideas of righteousness. The difference between these versions of injustice consists of Cortes’ manipulative strategy to justify his actions. Sadly, our own history is riddled with strategies like Cortes’. Andrew Jackson presented a plan to remove Indians from their land as a project for their benefit. If they stayed within the states, they would be “surrounded by the whites with their arts of civilization, which, by destroying the resources of the savage, doom him to weakness and decay” (Jackson).  This strategy of hidden injustice does not make a “great” leader and is still a problem in the modern world. Neither does blunt injustice, as in Montezuma’s case, for then the people will rebel. Montezuma’s treatment of those he conquered was his true downfall for if they had not helped the Europeans out of hatred and desperation, the Europeans would not have been able to stand against the united tribes.

Montezuma and Cortes both had one quality of the main three that make up a “great” leader. Cortes took risks and led his people to victory, only to leave them cursing his name in the end for his selfishness and injustice. Montezuma cared for his people (the Mexicans), only to be defeated because of his fear of risk-taking and the unfair treatment of other tribes. In a modern world that puts superheroes in the limelight, something can be learned from Cortes’ and Montezuma’s triumphs and failures. The ideal “great” leader is practically impossible to find outside of cliché stories and comic books due to human nature’s tendency to be corrupted by power. It is thus illogical to condemn our own leaders for being imperfect. Rather, one should support them and keep them in check when injustice is passed off as righteousness. Even a superhero needs a sidekick. A mere mortal needs many.



Samantha Stoddard

Human Connections: Engaging through Narrative

“We are here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn’t matter” (Goldberg 43). This statement, made by Natalie Goldberg in a chapter of her book, Writing Down The Bones, declares the power of stories and the importance of human detail. A good story allows for civic engagement in a uniquely personal way. A story says a great deal about its teller’s life and emotions. Tales allow people to share the intimate details that make them human, allowing people to empathize and connect with each other. These relationships form the heart of civic engagement. Stories allow us to connect to the humanity in each other and empathize with one another instead of merely knowing the facts; this personal element allows storytellers to engage in a dialogue with their culture and create change. 

The act of storytelling connects speaker and listener through the emotions and lessons of that story and the message it conveys. As demonstrated in the final chapter of One Amazing Thing, after Uma’s story concludes the following scene shows the reader how the act of storytelling has altered the group dynamic. “While Uma had been busy telling her story, people had moved around some. Tariq sat between Jiang and Lily, and both of them had laid their heads on his shoulders. Mangalam had come over to Uma’s table and placed his arm around Malathi. Mrs. Pritchett had wrapped Mr. Pritchett in the black shawl, and he hadn’t objected. Cameron, who had been pressed closer against Uma by these rearrangements, patted her knee as if to say, Good job” (Divakaruni 216). Characters separated by prejudice and buried emotions before sharing their tales came together and formed a community. The stories shared in One Amazing Thing do not follow plots especially remarkable or unique. They discuss simple things such as dead pets and beauty parlors, the “amazing thing” is the way these stories draw the group together. 

Former slave, Equiano acknowledges the power of mundane details in the telling of his story. He writes in the introduction, “I offer here the history of neither a saint, a hero, nor a tyrant. I believe there are few events in my life, which have not happened to many… I am not so foolishly vain as to expect from it either immortality or literary reputation. If it affords any satisfaction to my numerous friends, at whose request it has been written, or in the smallest degree promotes the interests of humanity, the ends for which it was undertaken will be fully attained, and every wish of my heart gratified” (Equiano 32). Equiano acknowledges that, while his work may not be one of incredible literary prowess, it allows him to connect with his friends and the rest of humanity in order to help his fellow slaves. Equiano thus performs an act of civic engagement in bringing a new perspective to the problem of slavery by sharing a story he viewed as relatively ordinary. Just as the stories in One Amazing Thing allow the characters to form relationships with each other and confront their situation, Equiano’s narrative allows him to connect with readers to communicate the reality of a problem. 

In using stories to relate with others and address the ills of society as in Equiano’s narrative, the issue of determining which perspective is true, or more correct, than another arises. For example, Bernal Diaz presents the Spanish conquest of Mexico (New Spain) as something moral in the service of God, and presents his narrative as the undisputable truth. “What I myself saw, and the fighting in which I took part, with God’s help I will describe quite plainly, as an honest eyewitness, without twisting the facts in any way… I have gained no wealth to leave my children and descendants, except this true story, which is a most remarkable one, as my readers will presently see” (Diaz 12). The narrative goes on to describe this tale from the Spanish perspective while they searched for gold and dealt with a native people they saw as uncultured and savage. A modern perspective condemns the actions of the Spanish as immoral and racist, but Diaz’s narrative presents the truth he knew, justifying his own actions as an invader.

In contrast, Fredrick Douglass offers the perspective of a victim of prejudice akin to that of the Spanish in a different era. In a letter written in the preface to the Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, Wm. Lloyd Garrison writes, “Mr. Douglass has very properly chosen to write his own Narrative… I am confident that it is essentially true in all its statements; that nothing has been set down in malice, nothing exaggerated, nothing drawn from the imagination; that it comes short of the reality, rather than overstates a single fact in regard to slavery as it is… Such will try to discredit the shocking tales of slaveholding cruelty which are recorded in this truthful Narrative; but they will labor in vain” (Douglass 305). Diaz and Douglass take two opposing perspectives on the horrors of racism and slavery, from which the reader must interpret and draw his or her own conclusions. Dealing with opposing “truths,” or ethical values such as those presented in these narratives, creates a cultural dialogue that offers the potential to come together and understand one another in order to tackle an important problem. 

Understanding an opposing point of view requires one to learn to accept other views as valid. These views develop as a product of a person’s experiences and represent his or her own personal truth. Hard Times, a novel by Charles Dickens, balances characters with differing points of view and their own versions of the truth. Throughout the novel, Mr. Gradgrind teaches his children to discard fancy and feeling in favor of logic. His daughter, Louisa, following her failed marriage, finds this emotionless existence barren and unfulfilling. Mr. Gradgrind had a way of thinking he embraced as correct; one Louisa came to disagree with. At the end of the novel, they reconcile and Mr. Gradgrind comes to appreciate Louisa’s way of thinking (Dickens). As demonstrated by the case of Mr. Gradgrind, appreciating someone’s truth often means opening up to the idea of a viewpoint contrary to one’s own. Mr. Gradgrind was able to open up to Louisa’s viewpoint, and thus repaired his relationship with her. Similarly, if Diaz had accepted the truth as the Native Americans saw it, race relations between the author and the native people would have differed incredibly. Morality varies from person to person just as it does from culture to culture, which influences how each person interprets the “truth.” Remaining open minded to the variation in truth in another’s story allows people to respect each other’s experiences and connect with one another.

Forming these connections allows people to share the events that weigh on them, whether these issues prove small or large in the greater picture of humanity, enabling the story teller to cope with and process his or her experiences. In the final chapter of The Conquest of New Spain, Diaz describes the fear he had to cope with upon entering battle; “I came to fear death more than ever in the past. Before I went into battle, a sort of horror and gloom would seize my heart, and I would make water once or twice and commend myself to God and His blessed Mother. It was always like this before battle, but my fear quickly left me” (Diaz 407). Here, for the first time in his narrative, Diaz assumes a different tone in describing the battles he and his comrades fought for the sake of their king. He discusses not the nobility of battle or the victory but the terror of war. In displaying his willingness to confront the issue, Diaz demonstrates his willingness to begin processing and learning to cope with the fear accompanying fights previously only viewed as noble. In short, over the course of telling his story, Diaz begins to confront his own feelings about his narrative and the trials he faced. Similarly, in One Amazing Thing Tariq discovers, after telling his tale and listening to the stories of his companions, that he is much more connected with them than he thought. “From having put up my own story against the others, I can see this much: everyone suffers in different ways. Now I don’t feel so alone” (Divakaruni 143). In finding common ground with the others Tariq begins to overcome a difficulty that plagued him from the beginning of the novel: feeling separate from the rest of the group because of his ethnic and religious identities. He learns to accept the trials and stories of others, connecting his experiences and theirs. Telling a story and processing his issues allows Tariq to engage with the community he finds himself in. 

Storytelling’s role as civic engagement moves beyond people relating to one other on a personal level to include their greater community and culture. It allows for coping with the ills of society. The personal details that so intimately connect one person to another often run through entire groups. A person discriminated against for her gender, or ethnicity, joins the company of many who have faced discrimination. Their stories may resonate with others in a similar situation, and will allow both those involved in the problem and those outside of it to change the way they think about the challenge. One such instance of using a narrative to work for change in society is Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. In her letter to M. Talleyrand-Périgord included as an introduction to her book, Wollstonecraft wrote “if women are not permitted to enjoy legitimate rights, they will render both men and themselves vicious, to obtain illicit privileges… when your constitution is revised the Rights of Woman may be respected, if it be fully proved that reason calls for this respect, and loudly demands justice for one half of the human race” (Wollstonecraft 5). Throughout her book Wollstonecraft follows this theme in demanding respect for women. She proves through various examples (brief narratives in their own right) that women deserve equal treatment, utilizing her writing to call for change. Similarly, Dickens addresses the reader at the end of his novel, leaving a final note on the call for change present throughout his book. “Dear reader! It rests with you and me, whether, in our two fields of action, similar things shall be or not. ‘Let them be! We shall sit with lighter bosoms on the hearth, to see the ashes of our fires turn gray and cold” (Dickens 354). Dickens uses the examples set by his characters to connect with his readers and show the importance of the many themes present in his work, including the problems of capitalism and utilitarianism. This serves to remind readers that it is up to them whether or not their lives unfold in the same way those of the character’s did. Both of these writers use the power and influence of their stories to address the problems of the worlds they lived in. They connect with their readers to promote change. 

There are many ways for writers to connect with their readers; the form in which an author chooses to convey his narrative and engage with his audience speaks to the nature of that story. Both fiction and non-fiction have their place in serving to connect to readers. In the above examples, Wollstonecraft, Diaz, Equiano and Douglass have all written non-fiction. The latter three told narratives of their own lives. Wollstonecraft wrote an argument for women’s equality. Both Dickens and Divakaruni, with Hard Times and One Amazing Thing respectively, wrote fictional novels. Whether fiction or non-fiction, these genres tend to blur together and reach the reader as a story. Diaz’s, Equiano’s and Douglass’s narratives are marked by their own biases and interpretations. All three books narrate events, allowing readers to connect with them as they might a story. In One Amazing Thing, the characters suffer through an earthquake in a vague city, all with relatable backstories and ordinary lives. While they are not real, they very easily could be. Even Wollstonecraft’s writing, which stands apart from the rest as the least akin to a story in the traditional sense, follows its own narrative thread of woman’s place in relation to man. Whether the author writes fiction or non-fiction depends upon the nature of the story she has to tell and how her ideas are best conveyed. The writer structures her story to best present its idea to the world, either by sharing an actual sequence of events or concepts, or constructing a fiction. The details of that narrative (what has a woman’s role been, what is the life of a slave, how do these characters connect) allow for the reader to empathize with that story and the ideas it presents. 

Just as fiction and non-fiction vary in the way they present a story to an audience, so do narratives differ in the way they present that story’s idea to the reader. Any good story will have content the reader can take away with him, an idea to place in the audience’s minds. This idea forms the root of the cultural dialogue a powerful narrative will start allowing for civic engagement. That idea may be small, a detail about another human that one had not considered before, allowing a relationship to grow; the idea may be enormous, a call for an entire society to change. In either case, stories ask readers to change their thoughts. Wollstonecraft presents the ideas in her book blatantly. One of many examples occurs in the first chapter, “My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood” (Wollstonecraft 12). One cannot read Wollstonecraft without being forced to consider whether or not women are rational people who ought to be educated. On the other hand, Divakaruni’s Mrs. Pritchett tells a story that is incredibly telling, not only in its specific statements, but in its details. She begins, “that fateful day begins with Mrs. Pritchett enjoying a cup of lemon tea” (Divakaruni 174). By referring to herself in the third person while telling her story, Mrs. Pritchett demonstrates a great deal of detachment from herself and her experiences. People suffering from depression commonly express feeling detached. Later, she continues, “Don’t misunderstand me. Mr. Pritchett was a good husband” (Divakaruni 176). In referring to her husband as “good” in the past tense, despite the fact that he sits in the same room with her at the time, shows a disconnect from both him and their marriage. These details in Mrs. Pritchett’s story build up to her suicide attempt later in the chapter. The way in which a narrator communicates her tale contributes to an idea or meaning in the story. Whether that idea is “women are equal,” or the impact of detachment on a relationship, the ability to recognize these ideas and use them to connect to each other and grow as a culture makes stories vital to civic engagement, and the human experience.  

Stories have tremendous power. While this often makes them an ideal tool for positive civic engagement, the ideas stories present are not always beneficial to the peoples they are introduced to. They can be used to express truth and understand one another, but stories can also be used to harm and conquer. In Diaz, the Spanish use the Bible and the Christian religion as a tool of imperialism in conquering the people of Mexico. The native religion is deemed satanic by the Europeans and overthrown in favor of the Christian religion they are familiar with. “He said that they were no gods but abominations which would bring their souls to hell. Then he spoke to them about good and holy matters, telling them to set up an image of Our Lady, which he gave them, and a cross… The papas and the Caciques answered that their ancestors had worshiped these gods because they were good and that they dared not do otherwise” (Diaz 62). Because the Spanish consider the story offered in the Bible the only correct and valid truth, they dismiss the religion of the natives. Their own religion is used as a symbol of their power over those they have conquered. Accepting a story as truth and wielding it despite, and against, all other narratives is to use that narrative to negative effect. Examining any story, whether it be one’s own or another’s, with analytical thought allows this potentially negative power to be checked.

Accepting a story uncritically allows that story power to corrupt one’s own moral values. In Douglass Mrs. Auld, a woman who was previously kind and gentle, is corrupted by slavery. While the advice given to her by her husband in regards to owning a slave does not present a story in the traditional sense, it still proves the dangers of accepting another’s truth without questioning it. Douglass describes her transformation, “That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord, and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon” (Douglass Chapter VI). Stories have great power in helping their reader or listener to embrace new ideas and understand another’s experiences. However, both believing one’s own story to be truth above all else or thinking the same about another person’s story is harmful and allows for corruption. One should not forget the importance of thinking critically about a story before accepting it as one’s own truth, or morally sound.

Connecting with a story to learn from it, and absorb an important idea, allows for these narratives to fulfill their potential as tools of civic engagement. Stories have a constant presence in our modern lives. Hopping in the car after school, the first thing a child hears from his mother is often “what did you do today?” He might then tell her the story of his day, or just brush the question off. Previews for movies frequently crop up in television advertisements, promising a great story if one pays fourteen dollars for a ticket. Gossip, newspapers, novels, primetime television, comic strips, and a thousand other mundane, daily happenings offer the chance to embrace a story, to engage with that tale for even a brief period of time. Some are good for a quick laugh; others might inspire a deeper emotional connection. These tales demand empathy from their reader, asking for a connection between author and audience. Stories touch readers, even though that reader may not have shared the same experiences. Acknowledging the importance and truth in another’s experiences allows for human connections to be formed. In One Amazing Thing, the earthquake survivors set down a simple code of law encouraging them to embrace each other’s stories, “The rules Uma set down were simple: No interruptions, no questions, and no recriminations” (Divakaruni 68). To tell a story and to allow oneself to share it, details and all, whether or not others might disagree with it, allows a storyteller to share their truth and engage with their audience. This connection forms the foundation of human relationships and cultural dialogue, becoming the birthplace of ideas that will change the world.

Works Cited

Díaz, Bernal, and J. M. Cohen. The Conquest of New Spain. Baltimore: Penguin, 1963. Digital.

Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. Bradbury and Erano, 1854. Digital.

Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. One Amazing Thing. New York: Voice/Hyperion, 2009. Digital.

Gates, Henry Louis. The Classic Slave Narratives. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Penguin, 1987. Print.

Goldberg, Natalie. Writing down the Bones: Freeing the Writer within. Boston: Shambhala, 1986. Print.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. London ; New York: Penguin, 2004. Digital.

The Temple

By: Robert McGuire

So … hang on. 

Baker Company had been given the task of clearing and securing the town.  Able and Charlie had done the assault and were being tended to by the medics.  I didn’t mind.  Hell, they needed a break.  I saw the gate fall and I heard the firefight from outside the walls.  Apparently some of the boys had to hole up in some alleyways, firing by rotation to conserve ammo and keep a steady stream of fire going.  The garrison here had refused to surrender, even when it was clear that we were winning and they perished to a man. 

Was it worth it?  

I don’t know.  It’s just what they chose to do. 

This new king that we’re fighting, he’s something.  Every time we come upon a city held by his followers, they refuse to surrender and keeping fighting us.  Chaser even had to kill a few kids.  He hasn’t been the same since.  We don’t know what the hell the guy does to these people, but they simply won’t take an easy way out.  It’s like death or victory are their only options.  I just don’t get it. 

We’re winning this war.  To call it a rebellion isn’t really fair to any other rebellion in history.  Other rebellions at least manage to win some battles.  They’ve won none.  I don’t think any of their people even wear combat armor when fighting us.  Its like they want to die. 

Anyways, we took Carventan.  And now Baker’s on clean up.  I’m with Sergeant Richard “Bull” Halden, and privates Joseph Leinz and David “Merry” Merriam.  I’m Private George Masters.  And this is the story of the Temple. 

* * * * *

At least, that’s what we came to call it, the Temple.  There wasn’t any other word for it.  None that would fit it so well.  Where to begin?  Well, I’ll start with how we found the Temple.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve tried to forget this day.  Doc Boe says the easiest way for me to try and get over this thing is to try and trivialize it.  That’s why I’m telling you.  Trust me, I don’t like telling this story.  But it does get easier each time, so, I guess Doc’s right. 

Anyways, where was I?  Right, the entrance.  So, us four were in this barn.  It was a typical kind of barn, lots of hay on the floor, sacks of flour and farm equipment on the walls.  Very boring.  We were all walking through, heads on a swivel, rifles at the ready, quick as you like, when Joe steps funny.  Well, not funny, just … Mind if I smoke? 

You do?  Well, you got anything stiff around here.  I never like telling this part.  Or anything else much. 

Sacra?  Yeah, I’ll have some. 

Anyways, Joe steps on some floor boards and the Bull notices that they make a weird kind of hollow sound.  He always noticed stuff like that. 

What?  No, he’s still alive, just not here, ya know.

Well, they all sounded normal to us, you know.  Wood sounds like wood.  But he had Joe step on the same spot and we heard it then too.  It sounded deeper.  So we started looking around the place.  Merry found the hatch.  He lifted it up and Bull had me call it in.  Two full squads showed up to guard the entrance, just in case, ya know.  So, anyways, Joe is lead scout, so he goes in first.  We got our rifles in one hand, lampacks in the other. 

We’re in this tunnel thing.  It’s a natural thing, cut by water, or rain, or something.  Lines on the walls are too smooth and worn to be from humans.  But the ground, it’s really worn.  People have been using it for some time.  Get’s me and everyone thinking it might be some kind of secret passage in and out.  We can’t risk the enemy coming in on us with our pants down so we keep going.  Need to find out where it lets out.  Joe starts telling us how he knew the town was too empty.  Said it never sat well how there were so many buildings and such a small garrison.  What he’s saying makes sense.  It wasn’t like we were facing an army when we stormed the place, but there were a lot of the buggers that were here. 

Anyways, we go a ways and then Sarge tells us to shut our eyes and turn off our lampacks.  We didn’t know what the hell he was doing, but we did it.  When he told us to open them.  We could still see.  There’s light up ahead of us. 

Now, people can’t see in full dark, well, people I know can’t.  Can you?  No?  See what I mean?  There was a light, now we’re all thinking that around the next bend we’ll be in a classic shoot out for the tunnel.  But as we turn the corner, the tunnel goes on a little longer.  But we can see that it definitely ends up ahead.  Joe’s up ahead.   He signals for us to hold up, so we do.  We don’t know what he’s about, but something’s got him spooked.  And I ain’t ever seen Joe spooked before.  Bull goes forward and takes a look.  He’s stunned, but he waves us forwards.  It’s nothing hostile, otherwise Joe would’ve told us.  What I saw down there, it … .

It’s gonna stay with me the rest of my life.  

You ever been to a church?  You know how it feels, like … silence isn’t needed, but it’s a good idea if you’re not singing praises.  Yeah, well, that what this place felt like.  It was nothing but silent.  And … at first I thought it was a church, but no.  This … this was something else.  The best way to generalize it would be a temple.  So, that’s what we came to call it. 

When Merry and I got down there … It was something else.  The tunnel we were in came out on the left side of this temple thing.  We were looking over all these rows of benches.  Looked like people in church, in the middle of their service.  All the benches were full of people, but none of them were looking at us.  And it was quiet.  Like, beyond quiet.  It just didn’t feel natural, you know?  So, anyways, we’re looking out over the temple, and it’s got an altar at the top that all these people are bowing their heads to.  Maybe they were praying that if they were silent enough we wouldn’t notice them and would leave their temple alone.  Well, that’s what I thought then.  I never hated being so wrong in my life before. 

Joe was the one that noticed the blood.  He just pointed to it.  It was thick on the ground.  You know how when it rains for a while, the ground just has enough water on it so that it’s like you’re walking in one giant and shallow puddle.  Like your every step is in the water, but yer feet don’t get wet through yer shoes?  Yeah, it was like that.  That’s when it hit Bull that they were all dead.  He hand signed it to us.  No one wanted to speak here.  I can’t say why, but it  … yer gonna laugh or think I’m crazy for saying this, they all do … but it felt like there was something in there, and if we made any noise it would notice us.  Just then Joe sneezed.  He muffled it, but it still echoed like crazy.  That’s when I felt eyes on me.

I half expected the people to turn and look at us.  But they didn’t.  It was weird.  There were all kinds of people there.  Men, women, children, old folks, all of ‘em.  And all of ‘em were in their Sunday finest, too.  But none of them were lookin’, so I don’t know what was looking at me.  Still don’t.  But I felt it. 

The walls of the place were white, like they had purposefully been carved smooth and there were banners hung on the walls.  Some of them I recognized.  They had the symbol of the rebs, red striping on a black field.  The rest had other symbols, or whole, I don’t know, messages on them in a different language none of us knew.  But so, we got started looking around and I notice the lights of the place.  None of ‘em are on.  But, there are fires in these bowl things and lit on candles.  The flames were black. 

Yes, they were. 

No, I don’t mean red.  I don’t mean blue, I don’t mean yellow, or green, or purple, I mean black.  B-L-A-C-K.  The hearts of the flames were white and then they went gray, but the flames were definitely not right.  We should have blown the entrance and gotten the hell outta dodge then.  You ever have the hairs on the back of yer neck stand up? 

Yeah, well, it was a first for me.  Something wasn’t right.  But Sarge gets bold and stands up.  He looks over the area.  No one’s there.  He turns back to us and whispered “Alright, anyone wanna hold this?” 

He’s holdin’ up his auto.  He wanted to go in there and check it all out.  Knew that Command would want all the intel we could nab.  But, well, none us could hold that monster he carries.  God alone knows how he can.  Damn thing’s near as tall as he is.  And the kick on it! 

Anyways, Joe’s so skinny the damned thing would blow him over before he could get off a shot.  I’m no good with the damn thing and Merriam’s a worse shot than me at it.  Sarge is looking at me.  He knows I’m the best pick for it.  But I know if it comes down to them being saved by my shooting or his with the damn thing, he’d better be the one doing the shooting.  So, he stays at the tunnel entrance while we three go in.  We set foot along this walkway to the altar.  There was some room for us to go across, if we were careful and had good balance.  None of us wanted to get our feet in that blood. 

But as we’re moving, I can still feel those eyes on me.  When I get to the platform with the altar on it I look out at the congregation, but I can’t see nothin’.  No one’s looking at us.  So, we make our way over to the platform.  I’ve got a flamer slung on my back, you know those are good in cave fights.  And it’s getting real tempting to skin that thing, torch the place and skip out.  But we didn’t.  I’ve still got my carbine in hand, my lampack’s in the other.  I put it away.  Joe’s up at the altar, scanning for anything up front.  Merriam’s up next, and I’m bringing up the rear of our merry band of misfits. 

As we get up to the altar and determine the place is empty, we wave to Bull to signal the all-clear.  He nods, but he don’t lower his weapon none.  We all got this sense.  You tend to get it when you’ve been a soldier this long.  You can feel when there’s danger near by.  You can’t place where it is, or what it’ll be, but you know it’s there.  Sarge’s sense musta been goin’ mad.  His eyes were everywhere and his gun kept tracking over the crowd. 

But anyways, we get up to the altar and Merriam notices a book on it.  Merry’d been to college before this war all started. 


I don’t know what he studied.  Seems kinda stupid, now.  Not to have asked.  Shoulda asked him.  He was always quoting random facts and shit at us.  He was a damn vault of useless information.  Is that what college does?  Teach you useless information? 

No?  You sure?  They teach you anything useful off at college?

They did?  What?

Naw, that’s not what I mean.  Nevermind, forget it. 

Anyways, so, Merry, he knows a couple a things about books and language.  He was one of our translators.  So, was Joe, but he wouldn’ta cared about any books we found.  So, Merry sees this book and he ain’t touchin’ it.  I mean, none of us were touchin’ nothin’, none us like even being up there.  I thought there were gonna be some damn mines underneath the floorboards my sense was going off so bad.  But, Merry knows he’s gotta take a look in this book, so he slings his rifle and pulls out his side-arm.  He flips the cover and starts flipping through pages with his gun.  It’s all in that weird gibberish language on the banners.  Joe’s lookin’ out at all of ‘em and he starts whisperin’ to us.  “How’d they die?”

And we don’t know.  But the bodies seem kinda fresh.  I mean, the air don’t stink, and the blood was black, but that coulda been the flames and these folks, their clothes ain’t rotted through.  Near as we can tell they all just happened to fall asleep at the same time and never woke up. 

But I get up behind him and I take a look behind us at the wall all these dead folks are facin’.  It’s got some other symbol on it.  Now, this is where things get crazy.  I’m looking at this symbol, but it … it’s … how to describe it?  It’s slippery on my eyes.  Like, I can’t look right at it, and when I do it hurts like a mother.  But I can tell you this, it’s something I’ve never seen before in my life, but it looked familiar.  Crazy, right?  And then there’s this stuff written beneath it.  I didn’ have to get close to know it was blood it was written in. 

“Merry?” I says.  “Merry?  What’s it say up there?”  Now, I know some of the Old Tongue, but not a lot.  Now, Merry.  He’s a goddam dictionary.  So he takes a look at it and he reads the sentence to me, it says something like “For your sins, you will be redeemed.”  Or some psycho, babble bullshit like that.  But as soon as he says this, this voice comes booming out of nowhere.

There aren’t no speakers, no radios, no horns, nothin’.  Near as we can tell this voice is coming out of the air.  And it’s loud, and deep.  I mean I’ve never heard anything so loud in my entire life.  Not even RT going off.  And this voice it says to us, it sighs and then it says “Welcome!  We’ve been expecting you!”  It said some other shit, but I wasn’t listenin’ then.  I’m looking all over the walls for a speaker, or coms, or something to explain this and shoot out.  But all I can tell is the voice is in the air around us and it’s happy we’re there.  And we are getting the shit scared out of us. 

So, I look to Merry and he’s looking off to the right and I look over and Joe’s already got his scrawny little ass half way back to Sarge.  I never seen Joe run so fast in all my life, not even when he was being chased by that tank a few weeks back. 

I ever tell you that story? 


Some other time then?

Ok, so, where was I … Ah, yeah … .  So, this voice starts chanting in a language I don’t know and I’m freaking out.  The Bull’s yelling to us.  I don’t know how we heard him.  He’s yelling, “We gotta get the hell outta here fellas!”  But, so, If we’re leaving, I ain’t leaving without torching the damn place because … I don’t know.  It felt like the only way to get rid of all the shit in there.  So, I yell back, “No!  We gotta burn it first!”  And I pass my carbine to Merry while I start to get my flamer primed. 

Well, let me tell you, that voice heard me and it got quiet in there.  It was quiet before, but this was something awful.  And Merry and I, we look out at the silence and see all those dead faces looking back at us.  They all woke up! 

Yeah, I know, right?  Craziest day I ever been through. 

So, now, I’m about ready to just let my heart give out and my body seizes up in terror.  Yeah, I got no problem admittin’ that.  I was scared.  I never been so scared in all my life.  But when I tightened up, the trigger on my flamer went and poof.  That book on the altar went up like a house o’ cards.  Foom!  And that voice starts screaming in pain.  It’s wailing like a babe and screaming!  And that snapped me back.  So, I turn and start bathing the walls an’ that symbol with the writing under it.  It’s catching all right an’ it’s all burning pretty as you like.  Merry’s shooting both his gun an’ mine now.  So, I turn to give support and the dead things are all starting to shuffle towards us.  They’re slow, but they have got the numbers on us.  So, I yell to Merry, I yell, “We gotta move!  Now!” 

And he ain’t arguing with me.  As we’re running I’m torching the path behind us, so that stage goes up real nice.  Made of an old dry wood.  Couldn’ta asked for better stuff.  But these things.  These dead things, as they come at us, I see knives stickin’ out of their stomachs.  They all stabbed themselves. 

I mean, what the hell is that?  Why would the do that?  I … I just don’t know.  I don’t want to. 

But, so, these things, they pull the knives out and start coming at us with the knives.  They mighta been dead, but they was still smart.  We make a run for the ledge that got us to the stage, but it’s too narrow to run, so we gotta run through the blood.  As soon as we stepped in that stuff, I swear, it grabbed us. 

I’ve always been a good runner, but not even mud coulda drag me down like this.  It held us.  Bull was hammering the damned things tryna to get to us with his auto and he was makin’ good work of it.  When we got close enough, Joe gave us his hand, pulled us up.  I gave a burst with the flamer as those things got near.  They kept coming, even burning.  I mean, no pain and they’re smart?  What the hell is this!?  But I gave a burst on the ground at the blood and cooked some of it off and then I heard the voice scream in pain.  So, I pull out one of my incendiary grenades and throw it in the middle of the blood pool and Foom!  It’s screamin’ again and the other guys follow my idea and we start pitchin’ those grenades as much as we can. 

So, when we runs outta grenades, the Bull says to fall back so we start backing up the tunnel and these damn things are still coming.  They won’t back off.  We’re hosin’ ‘em with bullets and frag-grenades and my flamers dry from all the use.  Let me tell ya, it was a godsend when we got to the trap door.  The fellas up there was confused as hell.  Had no idea what we were going on about.  But Bull tells ‘em to lay in a enough charges to collapse the thing and they throws in all they got simple enough, and as we start the blow the thing, the first of the dead things is there. 

There was this replacemen’ kid there, Johnny Heddron.  I’ll never forget the look on his face.  It was a kid that was crawling up at him, gnashing its teeth, blood on itself, knife in hand.  And he fires nice as you like and takes the thing out, but his face.  I … I saw part of him die right there.  And that … it don’ leave you. 

We blew the hole and burned the barn.  Bull tried to convince Command to torch the whole damned city.  They didn’t listen.  Turns out we weren’t the only ones to encounter such a thing.  A few towns over Dog, Easy and Fox companies ran into a group of the walkers.  But … they knew … we warned ‘em about such stuff. 

Me and the rest of the boys.  We ain’t been the same since.  Bull … he, uh, he and Joe … they uh, they’re real quiet now.  Drink a lot.  Merriam went to a hospital some days later, fell asleep and never woke up.  They found the pills next to him later.  I guess he couldn’t handle it.  And me, well, I’m here with a Section 8.  Can I go now, doc? 

The boys need me out there.  Don’t know what we’re gonna run into today.